“They usually come along with a problem or issue in a specific area. And that almost always indicates that something isn’t structurally right at a higher level. By asking questions and listening, I try to find these obstacles. It's my role to help customers see through their sub-issues to detect the underlying causes. And show them that they can remove these obstacles with the support of our software. Customers will then not just make advances, but will be able to do so much faster. That moment when customers realize the possibilities is always gratifying, because I know they can use this to gain an edge on their competitors.”
Senior Business Consultant Pieter Lalkens is enthusiastic about his job. “I've experienced that eureka moment myself too. In the past, I was a Sofon customer at two companies. I saw the effect it has, before and after. And it was huge. That was also why I moved to Sofon 17 years ago at the invitation of founder Paul Kimmel. I thought ‘wow, this is something that can really make a difference’. I had a background in presales, translating customer wishes into suitable solutions, including integration with other systems like CRM and ERP. Because of this and my experience, I felt I could offer great added value.”
What's your background? What specific stock-in-trade do you bring to the table?
“I originally studied to be a mechanical engineer and have worked for various manufacturing companies driven by customer-specific needs. Always on the cutting edge of IT and commercial processes. Drawing up tenders with CAD systems and selecting and implementing ERP packages. And as a consultant for a supplier of ERP systems, I've also experienced the other side of the business: the digitization of integrated business processes, sales, purchasing and production, as well as implementing and linking various configurators. That was the area I worked in.”
Now you're a senior business consultant. What does that entail?
“I begin by analyzing a company, asking lots of questions and listening. I want to know how the processes work and the various levels where people encounter issues. I then define the fundamental problem and develop a solution proposal. I do this through a presentation and often also a workshop. At the same time, I clarify the business value of the proposed solution for the customer. There must be clear benefits or a company won't feel it's worthwhile.
Once the company gives the go-ahead, I work out the solution in greater detail. This includes a functional design of the interface between Sofon and the customer's system. Our implementation consultants then assist the customer with the implementation and I'll be present when needed as a sounding board.”
You talk less about software and more about processes.
“That's right. Our software itself isn't the solution, but provides the path to the solution. Ultimately, the solution lies in the fact that you incorporate knowledge in the process, from the first contact with the customer lead to when an order goes into production. If the information isn't correct from start to finish, production will be disrupted and this could have major consequences. Essentially, you need to ensure that this is translated between three ‘worlds’. As a company, you possess all the technical knowledge about your products. But the customer views it from the perspective of how your product will be applied. And that’s different for each customer. And then your own sales team and dealers don't have detailed technical knowledge. That’s why we make sure that our modules can be implemented in a way that specifically meets the demands of each customer. Step by step, with prioritization, depending on where the biggest problem lies.”
What do you find important in the business consultancy process?
“Helping the customer to see the actual problem. The challenge that lies ahead. What you can achieve with Sofon isn't something you can simply express in words. It involves working closely together, providing practical examples or even building a model to demonstrate how a module supports processes. And I help the customer to understand that using our software modules requires a different way of working. It really is change management. It's never just a walk in the park. But the results are tangible.”
Why can't a company find its own solution?
“If you don't know what solutions are available, you can't just think them up. That’s where I come in. I know the specific problems and challenges that exist in companies as well as their solutions.”
How do you see your role?
“As a trusted advisor. I'd never impose a solution on a customer. That just doesn't work. We can't embark on a project together if the customer isn't satisfied. It’s the customer's solution and the customer must believe in it. If I don't think that Sofon is right for them, I'll say so. And I’ve done that in certain cases. There always has to be an element of complexity. If that’s missing, you don’t need our software modules. It’d be a waste of money. That’s something I always want to make clear. I like clarity and so do customers. People know me for being candidly honest. It's just the person I am.”
When do you feel it has been a successful assignment?
“When the solution has been implemented within a reasonable period of time. Which is actually always the case. Customers can benefit immediately from it. They notice that information is already embedded during the implementation. That means it all runs very smoothly and they can make great progress straight away.”
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